It sometimes takes extra education and advocacy on your child's behalf when discussing their multicultural adoption with educators. Abound therapist and adoptive mom Stephanie Mestery shares some excellent pointers here.
It is vital for our kids to feel a connection with their teacher. They need to feel safe and secure before any learning can take place. This stems from connection and attachment theory, as explained by respected experts in child behavioral health like Dr. Karen Purvis in The Connected Child, and Dr. Dan Siegel in Whole Brain Child.
In cases of multicultural adoption, it is important to update the teacher on your child’s information and story, while honoring the child’s privacy at the same time. Let them know your child’s needs, struggles, strengths and motivations. Check in with the teacher often.
Connection time is equally important with the parent before and after school. Give them undivided connection time including touch, a listening ear and playful engagement. Family dinners, bedtime stories and limited screen time go a long way. Don’t overschedule kids during the school year with extracurricular activities, especially in the first year of bonding. Less can be more, especially when beginning the transition into a new school year or at a time when forming that initial attachment with an adopted child.
Lobby for non-triggering family projects
Whether the project is on how eye or hair color is determined, family tree, race/ethnicity, or timeline birth-story pictures, these projects involving family can be complicated, triggering, humiliating and hurtful for many kids. If this project comes up, speak up on behalf of your children. Offer alternatives to the teacher so your child’s situation can be accommodated. However, not all kids will be comfortable completing, or have the information available to them, to complete these assignments.
Adopted children have suffered, at the very least, the loss of their birth parent, and then extended family. Many of these children have experienced traumatic situations. Some have spent time in foster care or orphanages. Lessons about traditional family configuration excludes students and can also trigger grief reactions.
Many teachers are not aware of the negative impacts of these projects on foster/adoptive children unless brought to their attention. Fortunately, these assignments can easily be modified to work for children in all different types of families, without missing out on the educational goals. Work with your child to see what their preferences are for your support.
It’s important for our children to be seen for who they are. Colorblindness is not real. Therefore, it does not do any good to live in a universe where we pretend it is. It is important to celebrate and acknowledge our children’s race.
Teachers need to see race and celebrate a child’s culture. Encourage children to be inclusive and support each unique child’s cultural identity.
Ways to encourage diversity in the classroom includes donating items to the classroom such as multicultural crayons, skin-tone bandages and skin-tone paper. You can also offer to donate and read a diverse book or two in your child’s classroom.
Educating the educator on adoption
When you connect with your child’s teacher, yes, tell them that your child is adopted. Share experiences and educate teachers about open adoption. Some kids will talk about their birth families and it is important for teachers to be educated on the topic and understand basic adoption vocabulary and their meanings. Encourage teachers to ask you questions. Offer adoption education resources to children.
However, there is no need to share intimate, private details about your child’s adoption. But, beginning the conversation and keeping the lines of communication open shows advocacy and support for your child. Adoption is an important part of our child’s life and it is important to partner with the teacher. Check in with emails, meetings and at conferences. Donate adoption and foster-care books to the classroom if your teacher agrees. A good resource for teachers is, In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You To Know About Adoption, by Elisabeth O’Toole.
Your child's adoption story
It is important not to hand your child’s adoption story out freely and without regard. People will ask about how much the adoption cost, medical history, when the child was placed and birth names. Allow your child to share the specifics when they are ready with the appropriate education and content screening.
Share with others who ask, general adoption knowledge including education on what an adoption journey is, range of cost, and the fact that an adoptive family is a “real” family whether adopted or biological parent, child or sibling. A great book for parents to use in helping children to share their story is W.I.S.E. Up! Powerbook, by Marilyn Schoettle.
Stephanie Mestery, LCSW, has been in the social work field since 2001 after graduating from MSUM with a BA in social work. She earned a master’s degree from UND in 2011. She is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Infant Mental Health, Permanency and Adoption Competency (PACC), and ASIST suicide prevention. She is currently completing her parent child interaction therapy (PCIT) certification. Stephanie also is an adoptive mother.